Study into Detroit Project Green Light surveillance finds benefits 'limited'

April 19, 2021, 12:41 PM


A four-year academic review of Detroit's Project Green Light has found the surveillance program's effects "limited" and hard to quantify, The Detroit News reports.

The Michigan State University review was an effort to understand the true value of the costly and controversial technology, which city officials have credited with a double-digit decline in the rate of carjackings and civil liberties advocates have bashed as intrusive and unproven to work.

But the research ultimately concluded very little:

Since Green Light's inception, carjackings citywide have declined "substantially" — dropping at an overall rate of 38% from 2016 to 2019 — at participating and non-participating sites, MSU's evaluation found.

Fatal and nonfatal shootings have declined 27% since 2016, compared with the five years prior.

But the authors cautioned it's challenging to pinpoint the individual impact of Green Light over other programs implemented alongside it, including Operation Ceasefire, which has focused on curbing gang violence, and Project Safe Neighborhoods, which has encouraged community-based solutions to violent crime.

"When I put my strict, cautionary evaluation hat on, I have to concede it becomes very difficult to specify" ... said (Edmund McGarrell, a co-author and professor in MSU's school of criminal justice.)

The study noted while it “cannot directly attribute the citywide decline” (in carjackings) to Green Light, it is the type of program that would have a deterrent effect. That’s reinforced, it added, with the decline in carjackings at Green Light locations, despite a significant increase in the volume of businesses participating over time.

Green Light had at last check cost the city about $12 million in public funds to implement. Cameras and signage cost businesses $4,000-$6,000, plus additional montly fees of up to hundreds of dollars. The footage is piped directly into police headquarters, where about 10 officers and civilians may watch hundreds of feeds at a time. Though Green Light has never helped thwart a crime in progress, police have said the high-def footage has been used to arrest dozens of suspects after the fact.

The inconclusive findings come as some city councilmembers fight for a targeted reduction in police spending in order to put the savings toward programs that address crime at its root, like mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Read more:  The Detroit News

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